As 9-year-old Caleb Bowen crept slowly through rows of corn at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, he jumped when he spotted large animals hidden throughout the maze.
The taxidermied animals were a big hit with Caleb and his 5-year-old brother during Wheeler’s annual open house event.
Caleb picked a piece of corn in the maze and used a hand-crank sheller to shuck corn to provide food for live animals at the refuge.
“I loved seeing all those fake animals because they looked so real,” he said. “And I loved getting to grind the corn after.”
More than 400 visitors took part in Wheeler’s open house, which included a corn maze, archery, target shooting, fishing and a scavenger hunt for kids.
It included a conservation film festival in the visitor center auditorium for children and adults.
Sunny skies and highs in mid-70s were the ideal backdrop for 12-year-old Madison resident Tommy Roden, who came to the reserve for the first time.
Roden said mosquitoes were everywhere, but he enjoyed learning archery and pellet shooting from skilled instructors.
“I liked shooting the bows,” he said. “There were bows I’ve never shot before, and I got to see some neat cranes sitting out on the water.”
Supervisory Park Ranger Teresa Adams said another draw was an activity called the Big Sit, where participants sit 13 hours — from 4 a.m.-5 p.m. — to identify as many birds as possible within a 17-foot radius.
The Big Sit is an annual, international, non-competitive birding activity hosted by the Bird Watcher’s Digest and founded by the New Haven Bird Club.
Wheeler’s open house is held each year in celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week.
“The weather has cooperated, and we’ve had a lot of good compliments,” she said. “Every kid here seems to have liked what we’ve offered.”
Clint and Meaghan Thrasher took their little girls to teach them the importance of caring for the environment.
“This builds the family, and lets them get in touch with nature,” Clint Thrasher said. “It lets them know that there’s more to life than just TV and video games.”
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